By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz January 13, 2012 at 5:32PM
To continue my series on my 2011 travels to festivals, after Spain I was invited to serve on the jury of the American Film Festival's debut edition of Indies in Progress. The American Film Festival itself is only 2 years old.
Poland is one of the only European countries undisturbed by the Eurozone economic crisis...they don't use the Euro, and it looks like they are thriving economically.
This Poland was not the "generic" Poland. By generic I mean, when one says she is going to Poland, the response is invariably, "Oh, Warsaw?". That is the "generic" Poland, This was Wroclaw, Poland. Wroclaw rhymes with Love as in WroLove. It is a very special part of Poland in its very specific and special back story.
Wroclaw in German is Breslau and for 1,700 years it was German until the end of World War II. At the Potsdam Conference where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin decided the fate of Europe (Poland was not at the conference), Roosevelt and Churchill told Stalin they were not overly concerned what he did with the borders of "his area". It was a surprise to the Poles when Stalin moved the Polish border west and made the province of Silesia (whose capital is Breslau) part of Poland. And then he moved the eastern Polish border into Russia, to include the disdained Galicia. Next he took the entire population of Breslau, around 500,000 souls, and moved them out into Germany. After all, they were Germans. And he took the Poles, Ukrainians and whatever other ethnic groups in the east of Poland and moved them into Breslau. This massive transport, or ethnic cleansing as it's called today, left the inhabitants of Breslau, now Wroclaw, feeling somewhat disconnected and rootless. The beautiful Prussian city, the jewel of the Germans had also been almost completely destroyed by the Germans and Russians in battle during the very last days of the war. The new citizens in 1945, without any knowledge of the city or its history, with their own historical roots cut off, had to create a Polish place called Home. Not easily done, and "Home" was still dominated by the Soviet totalitarian state and was not really Polish at all.
When I visited the city 10 years ago, no one spoke English or German, and I spoke no Polish or Russian. The city was all gray, its buildings big and old and not well cared for.
On my return as an invitee to the American Film Festival, I was shocked by the complete transformation which had taken place.
The new generation in charge of the festival and every 20 to 30 year old I met was fluent in English, and the city itself had a new coat of paint. Sculptures and that great Polish talent for graphic design decorated the city. The Polish character had taken hold of the city and its infrastructure in a way that demolished all my stereotypical notions of who the Polish people were and how their cities looked. Talk about Out with the Old and In with the New: This is the first generation to actually feel at home with the city and what a great city it is.
The festival itself attests to the Polish love of cinema; its own rich history is still vibrant and the people's interest in film sustains both this festival and the largest film festival Era New Horizons which in turn is "owned" by Gutek, Poland's largest independent film distributor.
New Horizons Association, the organizer of the New Horizons IFF (12th edition to take place 19-29 July 2012), picked up 7 titles for its distribution catalogue. The festival guarantees distribution to its winners through its own cutting-edge art house distribution arm.: El Premio by Paula Markovitch (Audience Award, ISA: Urban Media), Arirang by Kim Ki-duk (winner of the Films on Art International Competition, ISA: Finecut), Gravedigger (A sírásó) by Sándor Kardos (Special Mention and FIPRECI Award), It Looks Pretty From A Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny) by Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal (winner the New Polish Films Competition), as well as festival favorites and strong Cannes titles: Grand Prix-winner Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da) by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (ISA: Global Film Initiative), Director’s Fortnight’s Code Blue by Urszula Antoniak (ISA: Bavaria), and Un Certain Regard’s Hors Satan by Bruno Dumont (ISA: Pyramide). These films will be released in cinemas together with the Silver Bear and FIPRESCI-winner at the last Berlinale - Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse (ISA: Films Boutique) from January to April 2012.
To date, 14 titles have been released both in cinemas and on DVD, among them Hunger by Steve McQueen, The Beaches of Agnès by Agnès Varda, Le Quattro volte by Michelangelo Frammartino andEnter the Void by Gaspar Noé.
The latest title promoted by the New Horizons was Wim Wenders Pina (ISA: Hanway), which premiered at the 11. New Horizons IFF, then it was screened at special events, such as two sold-out gala screenings at the National Opera House in Warsaw for 1500 spectators each and then released in cinemas and on DVD. It currently is shortlisted for Academy Award Nominations for Best Documentary and Best Foreign Language Film.
Jan Naszewski, the head of industry and public relations and Ula Śniegowska Artistic Director, along with Adeline Monzier, the founder of Europa Distribution, an association of European independent art house distributors and their team are all young, energetic and I'd say, visionary in their determination of the direction they are taking film, festivals and distribution.
I have yet to write about my role and my jury mates in determining the winners of the Indies in Progress! And I have strayed from the subject of Secrets. But I'm no longer interested here in talking of the Jews, the hidden Jews of Agneizka Holland as seen in this year's contender for Best Foreign Language Oscar, In Darkness (ISA: Beta). The biggest secret of all is that Poland is a modern nation finding its way among nations who have no immediate legacy except their historical knowledge of how it might work for the people of the country, and so far, so good...
Indies in Progress presented 11 projects in final production stages to a group of 40 European and 40 Polish distributors, sales agents, producers and festival programmers. Among them were Wild Bunch (France), Artificial Eye (UK), Trust Nordisk (Denmark), HanWay Films (UK), Memento (France), The Works (UK), East West Filmdistribution (Austria), Wide Management (France) and Reel Suspects (France). Also, programmers from Cannes and Berlinale and representatives of the key media outlets came to Wrocław for the event. Polish participants included: Alvernia Studios, Opus Film, Gutek Film, Platige Image, Polsat and Monternia.pl.
We, the jury, myself, Jakub Duszynski of Gutek, Alexandre Weisner of XDCinema (Digital Media Services, France) and Mateusz Moczulski (Alvernia Studios) gave the main prize (U.S. $60,000 in post-production services donated by XDC, Studio L'Equipe and Mactari) to Not Waving But Drowning by Devyn Waitt (produced by Nicole Emanuele, White Horse Pictures). The film is about two best friends in a small Florida town whose relationship changes when one girl moves to New York City. Special mention to Now Forager which will receive the opening and end credits from the Krakow-based Alvernia Studios. We felt that Now Forager, a beautifully photographed gentle tale of a Basque couple of foragers was perfect for Poland and deserved special attention. It is the first "slow food" narrative, where the food comes from mushroom clubs as well as edible wild fungi. Slow Food is actually a formal group in Italy protesting against the McDonalds, etc. which was formed in the mid 90s. This is not an official affiliation. The couple in the movie gathers wild mushrooms and sells them to New York restaurants. They live simply, according to the seasons. When the wife seeks more stability, their marriage is put to a test. This is a food lovers’ film told from an unusual pov. We liked its unique aspect of food from roots to restaurant. Their next film, Lumber Junkies, will have a larger budget.
We we also loved Stones in the Sun by Patricia Benoit (produced by Karin Chien, Lotbo Films) which received a special award of full DI offered by the Warsaw-based company Monternia.pl.
Now Forager which used Kickstarter and raised post-production funds of $6,360 from 73 backers was written, directed and produced by the video art team of Jason Cortlund (Writer/Co-Director) Julia Halperin (Producer/Co-Director). Cortlund & Halperin have been collaborating since 1996. Their video installations have shown at arts institutions, film festivals, and microcinemas across North America, Europe, and Australia. They’ve received honors and awards from the James Michener Center for Writers, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Centrum Foundation, Liberace Foundation, Hershey Foundation, Houston Film Commission, the City of Austin, the Texas Council for the Arts, and the Texas Filmmaker’s Production Fund. Their blog tells of their journey from its debut in Rotterdam last year.
Next year the summer festival New Horizons will host galas on a par with Toronto at their newly built opera house.
When the festival was over, I had 2 bonus days and I took a 40 minute train ride to the town where my great grandmother was born and left as a bride of 23 in 1881 to immigrate to Texas. This is a story in itself which I hope to write in another context soon! What a reward that trip was for me. I encourage my readers to visit Wroclaw and feel the love!
Read Part 4 of Out with the Old, In with the New: Havana coming soon.